Yeonmi Park is a university student, speaker and writer who has accomplished a great deal in her 21 years. She was just 13 years old when her father was arrested and she and her mother fled her home country of North Korea, fearing for their lives. Since arriving in South Korea as a 15-year-old, Park has been very focused on exposing the horrific details of what life is really like in North Korea. She still has many friends and family members there, and she yearns to see life improve for them and millions of others. However, there was a part of her story that she kept hidden until recently.
In South Korea, it is considered very shameful to have been a victim of human trafficking, which is what happened to her and her mother when they escaped into China from North Korea. Park was afraid that if she made it known what had happened during that dark two-year-long period of her life, she would be deemed unsuitable for marriage, for jobs and for general inclusion in society. However, she knew that if she was going to speak on behalf of the oppressed, she needed to share her full story.
Because of the extreme trauma that she experienced, it was difficult for her to piece together just what had happened to her. Park remembered bits and pieces, but her memories were often disjointed and in the wrong order, and there often seemed to be large chunks of time that were completely missing. It took great effort and the assistance of professionals to help her reconstruct a cohesive narrative of her journey thus far. This was immensely painful, as some of these blocked out memories rushed back to her with such an intensity that it felt like she was living them over again. Still, she did not shrink from this incredibly personal exploration.
Park has won the hearts of people all around the world with her passionate, articulate accounts of her own experiences and her defense of those who still live in North Korea. She also advocates on behalf of those throughout the world who have been sold into slavery, often in the sex trade. Her road to freedom has been incredibly rocky, but she has shown remarkable bravery and poise at every step along the way. Despite the attempts of the North Korean government to silence her and call her a liar, she has stood her ground, and she insists on continuing to defend those who do not feel as if they have a voice.
Park regularly records videos in which she speaks of the deplorable conditions that she witnessed in North Korea as a child. Her upcoming autobiography will include further details of what it was like to grow up in a country where most decisions are dictated and anyone who breaks the rules could face execution or a lifetime in prison. With more people like her speaking out about their traumatic experiences, real reform could come to the world.